Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 13, 2011

Ill. Lawmaker Looks at Selling Ad Space on License Plates for New Revenue

Imagine riding in a car with a license plate that has an advertisement tacked on promoting a restaurant, soft drink, or sports team. Well, that may become a reality in Illinois.

One Chicago Democrat has introduced legislation designed to create corporate-sponsored license plates to generate revenue. It is part of an effort to help plug the state's $15 billion budget deficit.

"It's not a novel idea to have advertising on certain stadiums, or buses, or somewhere," State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) said. "But we need to start thinking of other ways to generate revenue that's going to keep recurring year after year."

The plan would give motorists the option of purchasing cheaper license plates with the advertisements. Companies interested in promoting their business would make up the cost difference, and pay an additional amount. The money would go to the state and a contractor overseeing the program, but it's unclear how much money both sides would get.

"If we took a million people that wanted to be engaged in this program, and if the state were to say get $10 a plate, it could be an additional $10 million a year," Mulroe said.

Mulroe calls this a "win-win" for the entire state because taxes would not go up, and Illinois would generate more revenue.

Texas is currently the only state to sell corporate license plates. Other states including Florida, Nebraska, and Virginia have looked at similar proposals.

(Photo courtesy of CyberDrive Illinois)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 04, 2011

WIllard Manager Says Potential Closure of Aviation Institute Won’t Impact Commercial Flights

The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.

Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.

Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.

"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."

But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.

Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.

"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."

Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 04, 2011

Mitsubishi will Build SUV at Normal Plant

Mitsubishi Motors North America said Friday that it will begin production of a new SUV crossover at its plant in Normal, Illinois next year, promising to keep the facility open less than a month after its 1,100 union employees agreed to wage concessions.

The state of Illinois said it will give the company $29 million in tax incentives as it begins production of the new Outlander Sport.

The new vehicles, which Mitsubishi started making late last year, will replace four existing models now made at the Normal plant that will be phased out, Mitsubishi Motors North America President Shinichi Kurihara said Friday at the plant.

"Mitsubishi Motors remains fully committed to producing vehicles in Normal," he said. "We will build vehicles here not just for the United States, but for many nations around the world."

Mitsubishi has said the new model is part of its worldwide efforts to rejuvenate sales. It plans to produce the vehicle for North America as well as emerging markets such as Brazil and India.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who was with Kurihara at a news conference, said the state agreed to the incentives to help keep the plant - one of the largest employers in the Bloomington-Normal area - open.

"Mitsubishi's decision to produce a new generation of automobile here in Illinois is a strong testament to the strength of our work force and the state's appealing business climate," Quinn said.

The facility's union workers recently agreed to cut their pay by $1.67 an hour, a concession Mitsubishi said it needed to keep the plant open. In all the plant employs 1,300 people, about half of whom commute from surrounding communities and as far away as Peoria and Champaign, the company has said.

The plant now makes the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle. All four will be phased out over the next few years.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

Traffic Restrictions Removed as Emergency Crews Continue Working

Emergency crews in Illinois spent all day Wednesday helping stranded motorists and clearing snow-covered roads following this week's large blizzard.

The state police and the Illinois Department of Transportation restricted access to certain parts of major interstates, so that crews could do their job. But by the end of the day, just about everything that was restricted was re-opened, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The only area still closed off to non-emergency vehicles is I-55 at Lakeshore Drive.

"If you do have to go out, make sure you have that survival kit in your car," Thompson said. "If you do get stranded out there, it could still be a while before someone could be there to assist you."

While the snow is being cleared, it is going to be dangerously cold on Thursday. People are encouraged to drive with a cell phone, bottled water, food, flashlight, and a blanket.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

Situation Improving on Champaign County Roads

Conditions are improving along county roads in Champaign County, but authorities still say traveling is not a good idea.

Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says highway crews stopped plowing overnight because of low visibility but resumed before dawn. Since then, he says they've made headway on most primary county highways despite high winds.

"As soon as those die down, the crews can clean things up quicker, and we should be in fairly good shape by tomorrow morning," Keller said. "We'd still like to deter people from being out. Number one, it's not really safe, and number two, it gives our crews a better chance to get stuff cleaned up without all that traffic out there."

Keller says any drifting is happening mainly on east-west roads. He says thanks to light traffic, they've not had to rescue many stranded motorists on county roads.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

State Police Road Update—Travel Discouraged

Illinois State Police say state highway conditions in East Central Illinois were improving late this morning, but they don't stay that way for long due to blowing and drifting.

Sergeant Bill Emery says most of the 17 accidents handled by troopers since early this morning have occurred on Interstate 57 between Mattoon and Rantoul, but he says only one of them resulted in minor injuries. They've also responded to more than 100 vehicles in ditches. But Emery says US Route 150 between Mahomet and Mansfield is impassable, as is Route 128 north of Shelbyville.

He says anyone leaving the house for even a minor errand needs to prepare as if they were taking a road trip. "Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car before you take off, even if it's just to the store," Emery warned.. "If you look up in the Chicago area, there were many people along Lake Shore Drive who were in traffic for hours due to what was happening maybe just a mile ahead of them, like a crash, and (they were) running out of gas."

Emery says troopers are relocating stranded motorists, but they shouldn't expect their vehicles to be towed for two to three days because of the weather and road conditions.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2011

C-U MTD Votes to Take Legal Dispute to Ill. Supreme Court

A legal dispute between the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (C-U MTD) and the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District (CSWMTD) is a step closer to heading to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The C-U MTD board voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal a ruling by the Fourth District Appellate Court stating that the two transit districts can share boundaries.

The CSWMTD was approved by voters in 2006 as a response to the C-U MTD annexing property in Southwest Champaign. Voters wanted to prevent C-U MTD service from coming into certain neighborhoods. Some people who live where the two transit districts overlap pay property taxes for both services, even though the CSWMTD provides no transit service.

"We don't think that Illinois law permits double taxation for identical services," C-U MTD attorney Marc Ansel said. "There have been cases in Illinois involving identical local governments seeking to tax and service the same territory, and the supreme court of Illinois we believe has said that can't be done in the state of Illinois."

Ansel said he hopes the Illinois Supreme Court will decide to hear the case within a couple of months. He said if that happens, oral arguments could begin later this year.

Meanwhile, the CSWMTD board voted to appeal the appellate court's ruling earlier this month also stating that residents should not have to pay higher taxes for two transit services. If there is a final court decision, CSWMTD Chairman Ed Vaughan acknowledges that his group may have to come to a decision about whether to actually provide bus service.

"We've been recognizing that we've got that coming for quite some time, and every one of us pondering exactly what we think we ought to do," Vaughan said. "And we will have that discussion.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2011

Mitsubishi Plans New Model for Ill. Plant

Mitsubishi Motors North America plans to produce a new model at its plant in Normal, Ill., extending the life of the facility just a month after employees agreed to lower wages the company said were needed to keep it open.

Mitsubishi announced the plans as part of new, global business plan aimed at revitalizing the troubled Japanese automaker.

"One of the main pillars of this (plan) is a transition from region-specific models with all of the specifics that entails - producing for a single market, single group of consumers, a single economy - to more global models that are produced for multiple markets," Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said. "And the new model will be one of those global models."

The company plans to announce what the new model will be in the next few weeks, he said, but all four models now made at the central Illinois plant - the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle - will be phased out.

Employees and local officials at the plant said they're still waiting for details on the new model and to learn whether it will keep all 1,300 plant employees on the job. But the news that one of the largest and highest-paying area employers will stay open was a relief.

"These jobs are very hard to come by and, again, particularly in this economy when most companies of this nature are just hoping to sustain their current employment levels," city manager Mark Peterson said. "These would be, I hate to say impossible, but almost impossible to replace."

The United Auto Workers said Mitsubishi's announcement was a just reward for tough pay concessions its members had little choice but to accept.

"Considering the economy, the state of the economy right now, I think the decision was pretty clear for a majority of the members," UAW local President Ralph Timan said. "It was a tough decision, and it came with sacrifices."

Two-thirds of the union's almost 1,100 members at the plant voted last month to cut a reported $1.67 an hour from their wages after the company said it needed the concessions to remain competitive.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said at the time that it was talking with Mitsubishi about possible incentives. The agency and company continue to talk but so far no tax breaks or other incentives have been provided spokesman Mike Claffey said.

Like the auto industry in general, Mitsubishi North America has struggled with slow sales. The company's U.S. market share for 2009 was just over one half of one percent - the lowest level since 1985, according to WardsAuto.com, a web site that tracks auto industry data.

The company's new business plan, which it calls Jump 2013, is aimed at producing more vehicles to sell in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. The goal, according to a company release, is to raise sales to 1.37 million vehicles in 2013 from the roughly 1 million it expects it will sell by the end of the current fiscal year in March.

The Normal plant started making the Gallant and the other three models it now manufactures in 2005, Irvin said.

"They've been very good to us for a very long time," he said.

The plant at one point employed far more workers, but 1,200 were laid off in 2004 as part of what Mitsubishi said at the time was its last chance for survival. Those layoffs have been followed by other wage and benefit concessions.

Peterson said Thursday that he's anxiously waiting for details about what the company's new model will mean for job numbers at the 22-year-old plant.

"The questions is: Now that's one model - is that going to sustain all 1,100 existing jobs, and could it mean more out there?" he said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2011

Mitsubishi’s Normal Auto Plant to Switch to New Model

Mitsubishi is announcing major changes in production that effect its auto assembly plant in Normal.

The Japanese-based automaker says, as part of its new business plan, workers at the Normal plant will begin producing a new model vehicle later this year, while production of current models will be phased out. The company is shifting its production philosophy away from a regional to a global approach, and Irvin said the new model made at the Normal plant will be sold worldwide, not just in the U.S.

Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said the move reaffirms two decades of hard work by employees of the Normal plant.

"And I think we can all really happy and pleased about that and look forward to a bright future," added Irvin.

The announcement comes two months after union workers at Mitsubishi's Normal plant agreed to wage concessions in return for a jump start in production,

Irvin said Mitsubishi will announce details of the new model at an event in Normal in a couple of weeks. He would not say if the plans call for more hiring or an addition of a second shift. He said it will not include production of an electric vehicle, although Mitsubishi's new business plan calls for the launch of eight new electric-powered vehicles.

Some auto industry publications say the new vehicle will be built on the same platform that carries the Outlander crossover and the Lancer sedan--two of the company's highest selling models.According to the new business plan, it will take three years to phase out the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor crossover and bring the new vehicle on line.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Tuscola Loses Out on Bid to Host Historic Steam Engine

Tuscola lost out on its bid Tuesday to host a steam locomotive that would have traveled through a dozen communities in Illinois and Iowa.

Online voting for the contest through Union Pacific Railroad ended Monday night. In addition to Tuscola, other cities in the running included Little Rock, Ark., Boise, Idaho, and Baton Rouge, La.

Little Rock came out on top in the contest with 76,217 votes, narrowly defeating Tuscola by a little more than 3,000 votes. That means the steam engine will follow a route that starts in Kansas City, Mo., traveling east to Boonville, Jefferson City, Chamois and St. Louis before heading south to Cape Girardeau, Dexter and Poplar Bluff. It will continue through Bald Knob, Ark., before concluding in Little Rock.

According to Union Pacific Railroad, the engine is the last steam locomotive built for the rail company. It was placed in freight service in Nebraska from 1957 to 1959, then was saved from being scrapped in 1960.

Brian Moody, the executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc., admitted he was surprised Tuscola, with a population of around 4,500 people, got as far as it did in the competition.

"For our small community to even be competing with these much larger communities," Moody said. "It's kind of a big David and Goliath. We came up a little bit short, and that's ok."

Tuscola is a central point for three different railroads, including CSX, Canadian National, and Union Pacific. Moody said thanks to the national publicity from the contest, Tuscola city officials have been contacted in recent weeks by people who are interested in railroads, and he thinks some of those "railroad enthusiasts" might be encouraged to visit Tuscola.

"We knew there were railroad enthusiasts who had a lot of interest in Tuscola because of the unique characteristics in our rails," he said. "This kind of gave us the opportunity to demonstrate to them that we were as enthusiastic about those things as they were."

Moody said moving forward, Tuscola will focus on how it can take advantage of its rail services to boost tourism. He also noted that the city will keep an eye out on other similar competitions.

(Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad)

Categories: Economics, Transportation

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